Wed 13 Sep 2017 | 03:03

Law discussion: Are we card crazy?

Law discussion: Are we card crazy?
Wed 13 Sep 2017 | 03:03
Law discussion: Are we card crazy?

There is a lot of discussion about cards and their effect on the game. There are arguments for and against.


We shall try to be honourable and listen to both sides. Audi alteram partem, as lawyers used to say in days when Latin was an important part of their education.

There is concern about sanctionary cards, red and yellow, because of the severe effect that it can have on a match – determining victory or defeat, spoiling the spectacle.

The argument includes "Why should a team be punished for one player's infringement?"

The other side: That is part of involvement in a team game – one player's error affects the whole team. If a player knocks on, his whole side are affected. Instead of scoring a try, they yield a scrum. This is true in all team sports. It is also true in all team sports that one player's achievement affects the whole side. You score a brilliant try and your whole team benefits.

And it is not just about infringements. A player – just one player – misses a tackle and the other side score and win the match. One player knocks on with an open line and you lose the match.

Then there is the argument of spoiling the game for those who watch it and the money they pay to do so.


The other side: watching is purely a voluntary activity as is paying to do so. Watching a game is an acceptance of the way the game is played, i.e. the laws of the game. Stopping the game for a forward pass may spoil some spectators' delight in the game but it is part of the package – part of the way the game is played. The same could be said to be true of sanctionary cards.

But – there must be a but – sanctionary cards have only a limited place in the essence of the game and in fact are not required in over 99 percent of rugby played.

Law 10.6 Yellow and red cards

(a) When a player has been cautioned and temporarily suspended in an International match the referee will show that player a yellow card.

(b) When a player has been sent off in an International match, the referee will show that player a red card.

(c) For other matches the Match Organiser or Union having jurisdiction over the match may decide upon the use of yellow and red cards.

World Rugby's regulations (not laws) of the game define an international match as follows: International Match means any match played between National Representative Teams selected by Unions whether at 15-a-side or an abbreviated version of the Game.


Other matches would then include Super Rugby matches, provincial matches, club matches and schools matches. International matches are a tiny percentage of rugby matches. In South Africa this year, eight Test matches will have been played. When Paarl Boys' High play Paarl Gim, 22 matches are played. The laws do not require the use of red or yellow cards at any one of those 22 matches.

The referee in all matches is required by law to have a whistle, but not red and yellow cards.

New Zealand played Australia in Dunedin recently. It was a great match with no use of sanctionary cards and no warning for repeated infringements. The number of penalties conceded was 13-6 against Australia.

In a 1st XV schools match on the same day, the penalty count was four-all after 24 minutes. The side that reached its four after 24 minutes was warned about the number of penalties. They were again penalised after 28 minutes, i.e. 7 minutes before half-time, and one of their players was sent to the sin bin. That side was leading 7-5 at the yellow card. After five minutes the second half, that team conceded its third penalty in the half, its eighth in match, and a player was sent to the sin bin (The penalty count at that stage was 8-7.) When the sin-binning was over the score was 38-7. The one side, on the count of eight penalties, had two yellow cards, the other, on the count of seven penalties, no yellow cards. Neither of the yellow cards was for foul play or malicious infringements. They were the accumulative effect of penalties.

About that time, in an Under-13B match, there were four yellow cards. Four! Under-13B!

The laws of the game do not require either of those schools matches to make use of yellow cards.

In both matches the criterion for sin-binning –  infringement repeated four times – was greater than in the Test match and the penalty was heavier in the case of the schools matches – 10 minutes out of 70 in one and 10 minutes out of 50 in the other as against 10 minutes out of 80 in a Tests match. This, though one would expect the experienced professionals to be more strictly treated.

Not all infringements in this most complex of all games is a result of cheating. It is a bit much to think that Under-13 players are cheating or that, because I'm the fifth one in line, I'm cheating suddenly. Admittedly, the 1st XV player may be 18 and so of a legal age to vote, buy alcohol, leave home and sign a contract. He may also cheat at games and if the cheating is at the instigation and training of a coach that is indeed something sad, gross in fact, a sin against education.

Because the use of cards is not a required by the laws of the game, their use can be limited without deviating from the Laws of the Game

Would it not be a good idea to make a decision to ban all use of cards for anything but obvious foul play in schools rugby?

It's worth thinking about.

The 1st XV match refereed to, was televised. It may well have been for several players, the only televised rugby match that they will ever play in, and there they are being sent off by a referee for having their hands in the wrong place.

There have been suggestions that the yellow card be a warning, not a sending off, as was the case at the 1999 Rugby World Cup and is the case in soccer. There have been suggestions that there be another colour of sanctionary card which would send the player off but allow a replacement. And there have been white cards and there will be blue cards.

Do we want more? Perhaps it really is true that less is more. 

By Paul Dobson


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